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Quarter Life Reflections: 24 Things I’ve Learned in my 20s

At the age of 22, I moved to New York with a sense of naive idealism and a general lack of life & adult experience. 4 years later, I am still impractically idealistic (though less so) and I still have much to learn, but through the experiences I’ve gained and the people I’ve met in this city, I’ve discovered a couple of things about myself and life.

  1. Take risks and do what you won’t regret (even if it scares you, alot). Take risks and live outside your comfort zone because it’s precisely those scary, uncomfortable experiences that are the greatest source of growth and strength.
  2. Don’t compromise your own happiness in the pursuit of trying to please and make others happy. In my constant desire to make others happy and to avoid “hurting peoples feelings”, I have often made decisions that were not optimal for my own happiness because I prioritized other people’s happiness over mine. At the end of the day, it is your life and ultimately you are responsible for your own happiness and wellbeing.
  3. People are motivated by self-interest (most of the time), and sometimes what someone else wants is not in line with what you want. People don’t always have your best interest at heart (which doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them human). Just keep in mind that what they want might not be what you want. Be discerning and guard your heart.
  4. Trying to please everyone is a losing battle. You will never make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try (and that’s okay).
  5. Attitude and grit are greater determinants of success than talent and intelligence. Provided you are a fully functioning human being, I believe you will go as far as your drive and hard work takes you.
  6. The only thing certain in life is uncertainty. Things rarely go the way you plan. Regardless of how much you plan, the reality is, alot of things in our life are influenced by factors and events that are beyond our control. The important thing is to quickly adapt to whatever life throws at you.
  7. Trust the timing of your life. Just because things are not working out now as you hoped, things will always get better. Its just a matter of time.
  8. Comparison is the thief of joy. There will always be someone who is more popular than you, who is better looking than you and who has a better job than you. If you constantly compare yourself to others, you will never feel happy.
  9. Most of us are faking it. You do it, I do it, we all do it. Another reason why we shouldn’t compare is that when we do so, we are only comparing someone’s (idealized, crafted) outsides with our insides. There is a lot more going on than how we present ourselves to be on the outside (especially on social media).
  10. Happiness has less to do with circumstance and what you have, and more to do with perspective and gratitude. The permanent kind of happiness is cultivated through habit and a positive mindset, rather than the outcome of events and circumstances.
  11. Your attitude and energy are everything. If you radiate positivity and feel good about yourself, you will attract people and positive experiences. On the contrary, if you are wallowing in misery and negativity, you are more likely to attract negative experiences.
  12. You can’t have it all. Something has to give. The perfect life is a fallacy; you always have to compromise in one area of your life. The pursuit of freedom and independence may be accompanied by loneliness or the pursuit of a successful career may compromise your personal life. Everything comes at a cost, we need to figure out what we value most in our life and prioritize accordingly.
  13. Know when to let go. Sometimes it is better to let go and walk away than try and stick around and change someone.
  14. Invest in and spend time with people who value you as much as you value them.
  15. Basic abilities and traits are fluid not fixed; we can always change and improve our skills, talents and even personalities, if we work on it. By nature, I am painfully shy. Over the years, I have put myself in social situations which initially have made me uncomfortable, but through years of exposure and “faking it”, I’m a lot less shy than I was 10 years ago 🙂
  16. You are not your past. But you are your patterns and habits.
  17. Other people’s (negative) perceptions of you don’t define you and don’t have to be your reality. Sometimes people’s perceptions of you are more of a reflection of them, rather than you.
  18. Showing vulnerability is not weakness, but strength. We live in a society which equates vulnerability with weakness. I think being able to expose the most intimate parts of yourself and putting yourself out there is actually brave, rather than weak. Vulnerability is where the magic happens; only in the presence of vulnerability, can we develop truly meaningful and deep connections.
  19. Having said that, there is a time and place to be vulnerable. Protect your heart and be careful about who you let in and trust.
  20. How you view yourself and your sense of self worth permeates every aspect of your life – from your career, to your social and love life. Life is infinitely better when you love yourself and practice self-compassion.
  21. Noone will respect you if you don’t respect yourself. The way you treat yourself determines the way others will treat you, which leads me to my next point.
  22. Setting boundaries are essential for a positive self-esteem. When you create boundaries, it lets other people know how you expect to be treated and what behavior you are willing to tolerate. You are establishing the consequences for crossing those boundaries.
  23. Self-worth is not something you accumulate, it is inherent. Your sense of self-worth shouldn’t depend on external validation, it should come from within. If you rely externally for your sense of worth, you will never ever feel good enough, regardless of how much you accomplish.
  24. No amount of validation and love from others can replace the need for you to love yourself. Sure, receiving compliments from other people makes you feel good. However, the issue with giving others so much power means that the moment someone starts to criticize you, your world starts to crumble and fall. Your sense of self-worth shouldn’t come externally. It should come from within. It comes from the realization and acceptance that you are deeply flawed, but worthy of love and belonging anyway.

 I’m still working on executing alot of the things I’ve learnt, but atleast I am armed with self-awareness. 🙂

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